On-board Electronics

Gator Image on Rear Tailgate

Main IBM Thinkpad Computer
An IBM Thinkpad 380XD is installed in the cockpit using a Havis Shield computer mount. The laptop computer is loaded with Internet access software (Netcom), GPS mapping software, EMWIN software (Emergency Management and Weather Information Network) and Voice Recognition software as described below. The computer is mainly used for navigation purposes and I can also use it to check e-mail, search for businesses (automotive parts - if needed) and to check upcoming weather information.

The Voice Recognition (VRS 98) software was added to make the use of the computer safer while driving. It has been trained with about 20 commands to start-up Internet access, read back map directions, turn on lights and other simple tasks that do not require significant keyboard input. To be safe, any time keyboard input is required, either the co-pilot will enter the information or I will be stopped and off any roadways.

The computer's speaker-out and mic-in jacks are connected to the on-board intercom system. This way, either the pilot or co-pilot can make voice requests and hear responses from the computer. Other devices as described below are also connected to the intercom system and computer system.

GPS Unit
I use a Garmin GPS III unit mounted on the dash of the Bronco. I have installed an external antenna mount and a combo power/serial cable to the GPS unit. I will configure the route using the mapping software below and load the way-points into the Garmin GPS III and then begin tracking. I use the Garmin to provide visual indication of compass headings and where to turn and I use the mapping software's voice read out to give street names and directions to the next turn point.

Another nice feature about this GPS unit is the Tracback feature. While I am out traveling off-road, I record all of my movement, then if it gets dark or bad weather rolls in, I can automatically plot a return path back to base camp and follow it on in.

Street Mapping Software
I use Delorme's Street Atlas 5.0 mapping software. The GPS unit is hooked via the serial port and cable. I will mark the start and end points on the software and let SA5 calculate the shortest route. Once that is done, I upload the route to the GPS and begin tracking. The SA5 product provides 3 voice response readouts. They are "Current Road", "Current Directions" and "Time to Finish". The software will periodically call off the above three pieces of information. If I want to hear any of the information again, I use the VRS 98 voice recognition software and "ask" the computer, via the internal intercom system, to repeat one of the above commands, it will then play a keystroke script and cause SA5 to read off the requested information.

EMWIN Capable
EMWIN is the US Governments Emergency Management and Weather Information Network. They broadcast via satellites, repeater stations and the Internet all emergency broadcasts and weather updates on a continuous basis. I downloaded the PC based software required to translate the transmissions into text and images that can be displayed on the computer. You can get text reports and weather updates along with satellite images of weather, fronts and lighting strikes. Also, all local and national emergencies are broadcasted immediately over this system. I can receive the transmissions via the Internet and I am also installing a 1200 baud demodulator unit on the BearCat scanner described below to pick up the repeater station's rebroadcast signal. I didn't want to install a satellite dish to pick up the direct signals.

Cellular Phone & Internet Connection
I have installed a Nokia 2160 cellular phone with the full US CARKIT 11 hands free kit and 3 Watt booster system along with an external antenna. I also use the adapter that plugs into the car kit and provides a port to plug the Laptop's cellular modem into the phone. I sometimes get up to a 9.6 connection on the cell phone to my ISP. Via another connection, the cell phone can also be connected to the intercom system, thus allowing both the pilot and co-pilot to use the phone. The intercom supports a "Pilot Isolate" function if I want to make a private call.

10 Meter Radio
I have installed a Mirage RCI 2950 radio with DOSY meter and a 9 foot whip antenna. This radio is used to communicate with the other vehicles that go off-road with us. Again, this device is also connected to the intercom system. I also have a portable Cherokee AH-21F CB radio that can also use the Intercom headsets. That way, the co-pilot can go mobile and be outside the vehicle and talk to me via the radio and it is piped into the intercom system. Also, remember, the computer continues to be one line with the intercom system, so the co-pilot can control the computer remotely.

Computer Controlled Automation
I have also added computer controlled automation to the vehicle by installing a simply Parallel Port Relay interface device that is connected to the computer via the parallel port.  I then wrote a Visual Basic 5.0 program that controls the Winch and several lights by sending out certain signals over the printer port to the relays.  I next added Voice Recognition to the Visual Basic program, so now I can speak commands and have the computer activate relays that will turn on and off devices on the vehicle.  Again, these voice commands can come in over the Intercom, the 10 Meter radio or even the cellular phone, as well as from the computer keyboard.

I have installed a BearCat 760 XLT scanner that is used to provide EMWIN rebroadcast signals as well as monitor other CB channels for the different groups that go off-road with us.

Intercom System
I have installed a Soft Comm 6PS (6 position Panel mount Stereo) intercom system. This device supports the Pilot, Co-Pilot, CB, Scanner, Computer, Cell phone and a remote port in the engine compartment so that when the mechanic is working on the engine or someone is using the winch, they can plug their headset into the intercom system and be in communications with me. The headset supports VOX and PTT, along with Pilot Isolate features and a -24db noise reduction capability.

Installing Computer Controller, Strobe Light Amps, Cell Phone Booster and Other Devices